|Publication number||US7751579 B2|
|Application number||US 10/866,233|
|Publication date||Jul 6, 2010|
|Priority date||Jun 13, 2003|
|Also published as||CA2528589A1, EP1635730A2, EP1635730A4, US20050018866, WO2005000158A2, WO2005000158A3, WO2005000158A9|
|Publication number||10866233, 866233, US 7751579 B2, US 7751579B2, US-B2-7751579, US7751579 B2, US7751579B2|
|Inventors||Robert B. Schulein, John S. French|
|Original Assignee||Etymotic Research, Inc.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (98), Non-Patent Citations (8), Referenced by (14), Classifications (14), Legal Events (2)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
This application is based on and claims priority from provisional application Ser. No. 60/478,271, “Acoustically Transparent Debris Barrier for Audio Transducers”, filed Jun. 13, 2003, the complete subject matter of which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
Aspects of the present invention relate to debris barriers. More specifically, aspects of the present invention relate to debris barriers for audio transducers. In particular this invention relates to barrier membranes useful for preventing a variety of solid, liquid, and vapor contaminants from modifidying or damaging the performance of the acoustic transducers, while at the same time providing essentially an acoustically transparent passage of sound. Applications include the protection of small microphones and receivers (speakers for example) commonly used in applications including hearing aids, hearing protection, communications equipment, personal entertainment devices and performance sound monitoring equipment.
Hearing device technology has progressed rapidly in recent years. First generation hearing devices were primarily of the Behind-The-Ear (BTE) type, where an externally mounted device was connected by an acoustic tube to a molded shell placed within the ear. With the advancement of component miniaturization, modern hearing devices are focusing primarily on one of several forms of In-The-Ear or ITE devices. Three main types of ITE devices are routinely offered by audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. Full shell ITE devices rest primarily in the concha of the ear and have the disadvantages of being fairly conspicuous to a bystander and relatively bulky to wear. Smaller ITE devices fit further in the ear canal and are commonly referred to as In-The-Canal (alternatively referred to as “ITC”) devices. Such hearing aids fit partially in the concha and partially in the ear canal and are less visible but still leave a substantial portion of the hearing device exposed. Recently, Completely-In-The-Canal (alternatively referred to as “CIC”) hearing devices have come into greater use. As the name implicates, these devices fit in the ear canal and are essentially hidden from view from the outside.
In addition to the obvious cosmetic advantages these types of transducers or in-the-canal devices provide, they also have several performance advantages that larger, externally mounted devices do not offer. Placing the hearing device deep within the ear canal and proximate to the tympanic membrane (ear drum) improves the frequency response of the device, reduces distortion due to jaw extrusion, reduces the occurrence of the occlusion effect and improves overall sound fidelity.
One common problem associated with the microphones and recievers used in these and other electroacostic devices used in and around the human ear is the infusion of debris of various forms, causing the transducers to perform poorly and in some cases fail to function. Perhaps the most common forms of debris are referred to as Cerumen or ear wax, which is noted to appear in solid, liquid and vapor forms. It has long been a desire to develop sufficient barriers for such debris that are transparent to sound, durable, and easy to clean. In addition to ear wax, other forms of debris such as sweat, water, and hair spray for example often cause similar problems.
Numerous devices have been developed in an effort to solve such problems. Such devices generally include passive and active mechanical solutions that impede the flow of debris, providing a means to capture some portion of the accumulated debris.
Known passive and active mechanical solutions impede the flow of debris, providing a means to capture some portion of the accumulated debris and provide a direct path for desired sounds to pass through the barrier. Examples of such known solutions include U.S. Pat. No. 4,553,627 to Gastmeier et al.; U.S. Pat. No. 4,953,215 to Hans-Joachim Weiss et al.; U.S. Pat. No. 5,278,360 to Carbe, and U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,105,713; and 6,349,790 to Brimhall et al, each of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety. Such devices are adapted to trap solid and semi-solid debris while letting liquid and vapor forms pass through. Such devices are often difficult to clean due to small openings or passages in their design. In addition it is often difficult to determine that these disclosed devices are filled with debris.
Some known disposable, passive mechanical solutions use open cell foam type materials to capture debris, while allowing desireable sound to pass through. Examples of such known disposable passive mechanical solutions include, for example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,401,920 and 5,920,636 to Oliveira et al. The disclosed devices are disposable, not cleanable and may capture solid and liquid debris but would have difficulty capturing vapor debris.
It is also known that passive devices may make use of semi-rigid microporous membranes (Microporous PTFE for example) adapted to trap debris and enable some sound to pass. Examples of such membranes include U.S. patent application No. 2002/0177883 to Tziviskos et al; U.S. Pat. No. 6,505,076 to Tziviskos et al; U.S. Pat. No. 6,512,834 to Banter et al; U.S. Pat. No. 6,134,333 to Flagler; U.S. Pat. No. 5,828,012 to Repollé et al; U.S. Pat. No. 4,987,597 to Haertl; and U.S. Pat. No. 4,071,040 to Moriarty, each of which is incorporated herein by reference in their entity. These devices appear to be effective for some applications but are known to limit the frequency response of the corresponding transducer due to their relatively high acoustic impedance. These devices are generally limited to speech bandwidth transmission, and will eventualy plug up due to solid and liquid debris accumulations, hence requiring replacement. Due to the porosity of such devices, debris in the form of vapor are allowed to pass through.
Other known passive devices place a non-porous membrane between an acoustic transducer and the offending source of debris, where the non-porous membrane tends to act as a barrier to all forms of debris, and to varying degrees let sound effectively pass through. Early examples of such barriers are described in U.S. Patent No. 3,169,171 to Wachs et al. and U.S. Patent No. 4,424,419 to Chaput each of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety. Such barriers are generally used in speech bandwidth applications, restricted in performance between about 10 Hz to about 4 kHz. The Wachs patent discloses a cap (or protective barrier) which is made of flexible thin paper, or plastic material such as sheet vinyl, polyethylene or the like. No details are provided as to the acctual acoustical performance of this device, but it appears to have restricted frequency range. In the Chaput patent, the described membrane is fabricated from 10 μm Mylar on to which Aluminum had been vacuum deposited.
In U.S. Patent No. 5,748,743 to Weeks, incorporated herein by reference in its entirety, describes a two piece hearing aid, one piece of which provides a barrier to ear wax using an integral membrane that is described to be “as thin as possible in order to minimize attenuation of the amplified sound from the micro speaker in the hearing aid device to the user's ear drum. Weeks indicates that the membrane must be less than 0.010″ thick and ideal performance occurs with membranes below 0.001″ thick.” However, the Weeks Patent does not disclose important information regarding membrane characteristics, such as membrane dimensions, membrane physical and chemical properties, and resulting barrier performance characteristics.
U.S. Pat. No. 6,164,409 to Berger detailed mechanical specifications for a membrane used with hearing aids. However, the Berger patent does not provide sufficient measurement data to demonstrate performance in two particular areas: low and high frequency response; distortion and attenuation properties of the device. The Berger Patent only discloses frequency response data between 400 and 4 kHz, which primarily covers the speech communications range. The suitability of the performance of the described device is questionable from the vantage point of acceptable acoustical attenuation. In addition, various embodiments of the device disclosed by Berger feature “a rigid, non-porous, non-sound permeable vibratable membrane”. It should be appreciated that the disclosed membrane structure has a high density, thickness and stiffness making it to rigid to move effectively for use with small transducers used in ear applications. Such membranes will result in unacceptable attenuation and distortion of sound passage for these types of applications. Furthermore, the disclosed membrane has a diameter between about 0.375″ to about 0.20″ (about 9.53 mm to about 5.09 mm) which would appear to have little practical value in hearing aid applications due to large size.
Other known attempts to provide non-porous barriers used with hearing aids have failed due to distortion or barrier deterorization. For example, a barrier introduced Knowles Electronics in 1994 called the “WaxShield” became unusable when exposed to oils in the ear, as well as demonstrating unacceptable distortion. In addition, similar devices from major hearing aid devices such as Siemens and Phonak were never introduced into production apparently due to distortion and/or frequency response problems when fabricated with dimensions suitable for hearing aid applications.
Further limitations and disadvantages of conventional and traditional approaches will become apparent to one of skill in the art, through comparison of such systems with some aspects of the present invention as set forth in the remainder of the present application with reference to the drawings.
In particular this invention relates to barrier membranes useful for preventing a variety of solid, liquid, and vapor contaminants from modifiying or damaging the performance of the acoustic transducers, while at the same time providing essentially an acoustically transparent passage of sound. Applications include the protection of small microphones and receivers (speakers for example) commonly used in applications including hearing aids, hearing protection devices, communication equipment, personal entertainment devices and performance sound monitoring equipment.
One embodiment of the invention comprises a barrier used with an acoustic device that is substantially acoustically transparent to sound. At least one embodiment comprises a non-rigid, non-tensioned film having a thickness of about 0.0003 inches or less (0.00015 or less for example) and formed of a non-porous material capable of being formed into a highly compliant sealing structure.
Embodiments of the barrier comprise a film that is less than about 0.00015 inches thick, has a diameter of about 3.00 mm or less (2.75 mm or less for example); and an active compliant area of about 2.5 mm or greater. In at least one embodiment, the material that comprises the film has a low mass, a low stiffness, is chemically resistant and a low sensitivity to temperature change. Further, the material has properties of high elongation and high impact strength. In at least one embodiment, the material comprises a polyethylene blend, where the polyethylene blend comprises at least an organometallic complex such as hexane or metalocine.
At least one embodiment of the invention comprises a barrier used with an acoustic device that is substantially acoustically transparent to sound. Embodiments of the barrier further comprise a film that is less than about 0.0003 inches thick, has a diameter of about 3.00 mm or less (2.75 mm or less for example); and an active compliant area of about 2.5 mm or greater. In at least one embodiment, the material that comprises the film has a low mass, a low stiffness, is chemically resistant and a low sensitivity to temperature change. Further, the material has a high elongation and high impact strength. In at least one embodiment, the material comprises a polyethylene blend, where the polyethylene blend comprises at least an organometallic complex such as hexane or metalocine.
Still another embodiment of the invention comprises a communication device adapted to block debris. In at least one embodiment, the device comprises an acoustic device; and a non-rigid, non-tensioned, membrane-like barrier removably coupled to the acoustic device. In at least one embodiment, barrier comprises a non-porous material about 0.0003 inches thick or less (for example 0.00015 or less) having a diameter of about 2.75 mm or less; and an active compliant area of about 2.5 mm or greater.
In at least one embodiment, the material that comprises the film has a low mass, a low stiffness, is chemically resistant and a low sensitivity to temperature change. Further, the material has a high elongation and high impact strength. In at least one embodiment, the material comprises a polyethylene blend, where the polyethylene blend comprises at least an organometallic complex such as hexane or metalocine.
Yet another embodiment of the present invention comprise a method of protecting an acoustic device from debris. This embodiment comprises forming a barrier and affixing the barrier to an attachment device adapted to be removably used with the acoustic device. In at least one embodiment, the barrier is substantially acoustically transparent to sound comprising a non-rigid, non-tensioned film having a thickness of about 0.0003 inches or less, the film being formed of a non-porous material capable of being formed into a highly compliant sealing structure.
One other embodiment comprises a method of forming an acoustic device having a debris barrier. Embodiments of the method comprises forming a thin low mass, low stiffness and compliant film and preparing the acoustic device. The film is affixed to the acoustic device forming the debris barrier. Yet another embodiment of the invention comprises a barrier used with an acoustic device. This embodiment comprises a non-porous film that is substantially acoustically transparent to sound having a maximum attenuation of approximately 2 dB or less over a frequency range of approximately 100 Hz to 10,000 Hz and adds less than 0.5% THD for sound pressure levels up to about 115 dB SPL. In one or more embodiments, the film is chemically resistant; has a high elongation and high impact strength, a thickness of about 0.0003 inches or less, and a diameter of about 3.0 mm or less.
These and other advantages, aspects, and novel features of the present invention, as well as details of illustrated embodiments, thereof, will be more fully understood from the following description and drawings.
Particular embodiments of the present invention relate to barrier membranes useful for preventing a variety of solid, liquid, and vapor contaminants from modifidying or damaging the performance of acoustic transducers, while at the same time providing essentially an acoustically transparent passage of sound. Applications include the protection of small microphones and receivers (speakers for example) (generally referred to as acoustic devices”) commonly used in applications including hearing aids, hearing protection attenuators, communications equipment and personal entertainment and performance sound monitoring devices (generally referred to as “equipment”).
Based on the clear and unmet needs of the hearing aid and similar sound application users, there appears to be a need for a suitably rugged, cleanable, and acoustically transparent barrier used with both receivers (speakers for example) and microphones. In at least one embodiment, the present invention comprises a barrier adapted to protect acoustic devices from various solid, liquid and vapor contaminants used in a variety of hearing, hearing protection, entertainment and communication applications.
In at least one embodiment, the barrier is applied or affixed to the acoustic device (using any suitable mechanical, adhesive and/or heat bonding process for example). The barrier is substantially acoustically transparent to sound and comprises a non-rigid, non-tensioned film, formed of a non-porous material, having a thickness of about 0.0003 inches or less (about 0.00015 inches thick for example), a diameter of about 2.75 mm or less and an active compliant diameter area of about 2.5 mm or greater.
In at least one embodiment, the barrier material is comprised of a low mass and has low stiffness, a high elongation and high impact strength. The barrier material is comprised of a polyethylene blend (an organmetallic complex comprising hexane or metalocine for example) that is chemically resistant to solid, liquid and vapor contaminants and is insensitive to temperature change (in an expected operating range for example).
It should be appreciated that, in at least one embodiment, the barrier prevents all forms of cerumen (i.e., solid, liquid and vapor) from contaminating the acoustic device without affecting the sound quality or fit of the device. Embodiments of the invention would enable the user to easily detect the presence of cerumen, would be easy to clean and replace, and would require minimal modification of the hearing aid manufacturer's assembly process.
Yet another embodiment of the invention comprises a barrier used with an acoustic device. This embodiment comprises a non-porous film that is substantially acoustically transparent to sound having a maximum attenuation of approximately 2 dB or less over a frequency range of approximately 100 Hz to 10,000 Hz and adds less than 0.5% THD for sound pressure levels up to about 115 dB SPL. In one or more embodiments, the film is chemically resistant; has a high elongation and high impact strength, a thickness of about 0.0003 inches or less, and a diameter of about 3.0 mm or less.
The Ceruminous glands 12 secrete solid, liquid and vapor contaminants 14 (alternatively referred to as Cerumen or ear wax), which accumulates within the ear canal 10 and, most particularly, along the fleshly walls 11. Contaminant 14 naturally propagates outward from the inner portions of the ear canal 10 towards the concha 17. This outward movement is due in part to the action of tiny cilia (not shown) located along the ear canal walls 11 and in part to the natural movements of the ear canal 10.
Based on clear and unmet needs of hearing aid and similar sound application users, there appears to be a need for a suitably rugged, cleanable and acoustically transparent barrier for both receivers (speakers for example) and microphones. In one embodiment, the present invention comprises a non-rigid, non-tensioned, membrane-like barrier adapted to protect acoustic transducers or devices from various solid, liquid and vapor contaminants (where the acoustic device having a barrier applied or affixed thereto is referred to as a “communication device”), adapted for use in a variety of hearing, hearing protection, entertainment and communications applications.
In one embodiment, the barrier comprises a thin, low mass, low stiffness and highly compliant membrane adapted to seal the sound inlet or outlets of the acoustic devices (transducers such as microphones and speakers or receivers for example). The membrane may be made from materials such as a Polyethylene and Teflon PTFE films, selected and processed to have a predetermined thickness, shape, compliance and attachment means for specific applications. Such barriers are used to prevent the intrusion of earwax and other debris in solid, liquid, or vapor form, capable of damaging or impairing the proper operation of sound transducers. Common applications include hearing aids, hearing protection devices, communications equipment and personal entertainment and monitoring devices. The barriers are implemented proximate to the acoustical inlet or outlet of such transducers, so as to allow both the recognition of the presence of contaminants, and convenient cleaning with common solvents and cleaning devices (for example, water, saliva, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide).
Based on numerous measurements of the acoustic transmission characteristics of such concepts, it is contemplated that the membrane should be highly compliant and therefore non-rigid. In order for sound to appear to “pass through” the membrane, the membrane must move freely so as to allow re-radiation of the sound. Such motion is created by the excitation sound field. If the impedance of the moving diaphragm is relatively small compared to that of the acoustic load that it is attempting to drive, then the amount of attenuation will be negligible.
It is contemplated that, in one embodiment, a barrier is constructed from a material approximately 0.00015 inches thick that is very limp when it has been stretched from an initial thickness approximately twice this value. Once stretched the material assumes a wrinkled state and is generally applied in such a condition so as to form a highly compliant relaxed and non-tensioned diaphragm (having a low impedance).
It is further contemplated that the re-radiating area of the film barrier should be sufficiently large so as to avoid distortion problems. As a specific example, the port exit diameter for three flanged ear tips provided below had to be increased from approximately 1 mm to 3 mm in diameter to reduce the resultant diaphragm motion and hence perceived distortion.
Further, the film barrier should be relatively inert and non-damaging to humans. The barrier material must be suitably strong (and easily cleaned of accumulated debris) and resist rupture in typical applications. It is contemplated that Polyethylene and Teflon, among other materials, have such properties.
The illustrated assembly 100 includes a pair of earphones 111 and 112 (each earphone 111 and 112 having tip 180) for insertion into the entrances of the ear canals of a user. A pair of cables 113 and 114 connect earphones 111 and 112 to a junction unit 115. Common cable 116 connects the junction unit 115 to a plug connector 117 which may be connected to an output jack of a stereophonic amplifier, for example.
The housing member 120 includes a wall 132 at an opposite end of the chamber portion 119 and an outer wall 134 of the chamber portion 119 which is in surrounding relation to the receiver 118 and which may preferably be of generally cylindrical form.
The housing member 120 further includes a tubular portion 135 which projects from the end wall 132 of the chamber portion of the housing member and which is inserted in an opening 137 of an acoustic coupling device 138 arranged to be inserted into the entrance of an ear canal of a user. As shown, the coupling device 138 is in the form of an ear tip of a soft compliant material and has three outwardly projecting flange portions 139, 140 and 141 which are of generally conical form and of progressively increasing diameters, arranged to conform to the inner surface portions of the entrance of the ear canal of the user and to provide a seal limiting transmission of sound to the ear canal.
Custom ear molds or other types of coupling devices may be substituted for the illustrated device 138, the subassembly of the housing member 120, receiver 118 and other parts being thus usable with various types of coupling devices.
With the construction as thus far described, the housing member 120 may be readily molded from plastic in one piece and it serves the functions of connecting to the outlet port of the receiver, supporting the damper, providing a sound passage and releasably connecting to a coupling device which may be of various possible types, such functions being performed with a high degree of accuracy and reliability.
Experimental verification of the attenuation attributable to this example was made over a wide frequency range using the test set up illustrated in
Further analysis and simulation shows that for smaller ear canal volumes, the simulated ear canal capacitance would be smaller, and the predicted attenuation smaller for a given Cerumen-Barrier. It should be appreciated that for larger volumes the attenuation would be somewhat greater.
First and second ends 624 and 626 define opposing openings 628 and 630 respectively. Further, first end 624 defines a lip or mounting surface 632, which extends from, and is substantially parallel to, housing 622 at first end 624, although other relationships are contemplated. In at least one embodiment, mounting surface 632 has a diameter of about 3.00 mm or less (2.75 mm or less for example). Further, at least first end 624 defines opening 628 having a diameter of about 2.5 mm or less. It is contemplated that, in at least one embodiment, second end 626 has a diameter between about 1.3 mm to about 2.4 mm, although other arrangements are contemplated. It should be appreciated that first and second ends may define more than one opening.
In at least one embodiment, a barrier 614 is fixed to at least one end of the of the conforming attachment device 620. In the illustrated embodiment, barrier 614 is fixed to the first end 624 using any of the processes discussed herein.
Another embodiment of an ITE hearing aid 900 is depicted in
In at least one embodiment, the material that comprises the film has a low mass, a low stiffness, is chemically resistant and a low sensitivity to temperature change. Further, the material has a high elongation and high impact strength. In at least one embodiment, the material comprises a polyethylene blend, where the polyethylene blend comprises at least an organometallic complex such as hexane or metalocine.
If the film is thin enough, the acoustic device is prepared 1328. In one embodiment, preparing the acoustic device comprise enlarging the sound port, from about 1 mm to about 3 mm for example, increasing the sound re-radiation area. The film is applied to the acoustic device 1330 and fixed thereto 1332 using a mechanical device, although any means for securing the barrier to the ear tip (including glue or conforming attachment device for example) are contemplated.
In another embodiment, the method for forming a communication device in accordance with embodiments of the present invention comprises stretching a larger piece of material over a larger heated round form. Stretching the material over the hot round form stabilizes the material up to a desired maximum high temperature (63° C. for example). In addition, once the material has been stretched over a large form, a plurality of individual circular patterns can be punched out for further processing.
The analog equivalent circuit of
Confirmation of receiver barrier performance may be determined through the use an acoustic coupler and measurement microphone known to simulate the impedance of the typical human ear. Such a coupler, known as a Zwislocki Coupler, is illustrated in
Further, membrane materials found suitable for these application include Linear Low Density Polyethylene (“LLDPE”) blends in film form for example with an initial thickness of about 0.00035 to about 0.00055 inches.
While the present invention has been described with reference to certain embodiments, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes may be made and equivalents may be substituted without departing from the scope of the present invention. In addition, many modifications may be made to adapt a particular situation or material to the teachings of the present invention without departing from its scope. Therefore, it is intended that the present invention not be limited to the particular embodiment disclosed, but that the present invention will include all embodiments falling within the scope of the appended claims.
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|U.S. Classification||381/325, 381/328, 381/324, 181/130, 181/135, 381/322, 181/129|
|International Classification||H04R1/12, A61F, H04R25/00|
|Cooperative Classification||H04R25/654, H04R1/12|
|European Classification||H04R25/65B1, H04R1/12|
|Dec 6, 2005||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: ETYMOTIC RESEARCH, INC., ILLINOIS
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:SCHULEIN, ROBERT B.;FRENCH, JOHN S.;REEL/FRAME:017098/0512
Effective date: 20040608
|Jan 6, 2014||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 4